Friday, September 22, 2017

Disrupting High Energy Prices

On ABC Radio Canberra Thursday morning there was a segment on high charges for communal hot water systems in Canberra.  In 2013 I asked for an ACT Assembly Inquiry into Energy Billing, as the charges were five to ten times what they should be. However, no action was taken by the ACT Assembly.

If the ACT Assembly will not stop incumbent energy retailers from imposing unconscionable charges, then perhaps new local businesses need to "disrupt" the business model. New providers could assist the body corporate of a block of units to purchase energy in bulk and meter it to each unit, using billing as a service in the cloud.

The ACT Government, along with Canberra's universities, have fostered a start-up community to help set up new businesses using new technology. This includes Canberra Innovation Network  and the Renewables Innovation Hub. I have been mentoring start-ups through the Innovation ACT competition and setting up an energy metering business is no more complex than some new businesses I have helped with.

ps: I teach "ICT Sustainability" at the ANU, on how to estimate and reduce carbon emissions using computers, through such measures as computerized metering.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Are we opening up Australian Government?

Greetings from a law-book lined library at the Australian National University, where Daniel Stewart, Senior Lecturer, ANU College of Law is asking "Are we opening up government?". This is in his role as part of the evaluation of the Australian Open Government National Action Plan 2016-18. This is a bit like being an extra in an episode of the ABC TV comedy "Utopia", with a "dashboard" showing cute green icons, which claims everything is on track.

Leaving the cynicism aside, and the difficulty of a credible plan for open government in the current political climate, the plan has some good intentions. As an example 2.3 "Digitally transform the delivery of government services" is a good idea. This is delegated to the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA), which makes sense. The DTA was to to deliver a roadmap, which they seem to have done. However, what is lacking are the trained staff needed to implement the roadmap.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Australian Joint Cyber Reserve Force

Tom Worthington aboard USS Blue Ridge
Tom Worthington
on USS Blue Ridge
Cyber commandos for defence reserve" 16 August 2017). The UK Joint Cyber Reserve Force. was stood up in May 2013 and I suggested Australia do some thing similar in August 2013.

These reservists would be similar to medical specialists who can apply their civilian skills in the military. This allows the military to use personnel who they could not afford to train and retain full time. It also provides a link between those running critical national infrastructure in the civilian sector and the government organizations tasked to protect it.

As I see it, members of the Cyber Reserve Force should be issued with secure communications equipment which they keep with them during their civilian job. The members would be in constant contact about threats and ready to act on them within minutes. This contrasts with a conventional reserve, where it takes days, weeks, or months for activation.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Canberra Welcomes Our Robot Overlords

James Kavanagh, CTO Microsoft Australia started his keynote at the 21st Australian Computer Society Annual Canberra Conference by mentioning that today Microsoft announced that Microsoft Azure will be provided from Canberra Data Centres (CDC) for Unclassified and Protected government data.

Conference chair, Tim Turner from UNSW Canberra,  opened the conference by welcoming our robot overlords (the theme is AI). From looking at the program, that will be the only humor today, on the topic of AI, until Anh Do does the closing plenary. I will be speaking on "Designing Professional e-Learning" at 2:20 pm.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

After the Dance at the New Theater in Sydney

Last night I attended "After the Dance" by Terence Rattigan at the New Theater, Newtown in Sydney.  Set on the eve of World War II, the play depicts the end of an age of peace and prosperity with bright young things world weary.

Callum Alexander in early scenes seems to be channeling the young Hugh Grant in Four Weddings and a Funeral. John Cervenka's set is a little sparse for the era. One jarring point was walls which appeared to be finished as polished concrete. The Chesterfield sofa was the centerpiece for the characters to lounge. Costume Designer Brodie Simpson captures the elegance of the age, before wartime austerity.

This pay in one way looks dated with young men in tweed and oxbridge accents discussing love affairs while drinking gin and tonic.  In another way it is of today, with Australia on the brink of a war in North Asia, awash with alcohol and having binged on the proceeds of a mining boom on colonized land.

"After the Dance" by Terence Rattigan at the New Theater Newtown. until Sat 9 Sep

Wednesday, August 02, 2017

Future of Innovation in Canberra

Greetings from the Canberra Innovation Network's  First Wednesday Drinks. I have been here since 2:30pm, for a World Cafe on the future of innovation in Canberra. A room full of people moved from table to table discussing what needs to be done to foster innovation, how that can be done and how to get the message out about doing it. It can be very frustrating at such sessions where there is a lot of ideas floated but you wonder if anything will ever happen. In this case we had the satisfaction of then attending the first Wednesday pitches and heard of real things making a real difference.

I did try to get a bit more creative with ideas, beyond the obvious of teaching innovation, I suggested turning CBRIN into a reality TV show, with the real life drama of turning ideas into products and services.

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Video for GovHack Entry

Greetings from  GovHack 2017. I
I have had some queries in the Canberra Coach Pit about what should be in the Video entry.

As it says in the GovHack Handbook:
"This a video pitch of your entry that tells a story of how you have reused data. The video should demonstrate your hack concept, the benefits or value the concept could achieve and where possible introduce your team. The most common method is to use a screencast, with a voice-over narration". (Emphasis added)
 To that I would add:
  1.  Get it in before the deadline (4pm AEST): It doesn't matter how good your video is, if it is not in on time it will not be considered. Making a video is a very time consuming process. Produce a rough cut well before the deadline and then polish, as it is going to take longer than you thought. Upload well before the deadline, as the handbook says: "must submit actual Video URL not link to another website". The preferred location to link to is YouTube.
  2. Explain what the problem is: The story you tell should say what the problem you are tying to solve is, as that may not be obvious to the viewer.
  3. Make the vision clear:  Don't have tiny text, or too much detail, as that will be hard to see. My tip is to view the video on a smart phone held at arm's length and see if it is watchable.
  4. Make the sound clear: Find a quiet spot to record audio. A headset microphone works well, as it gets the microphone close to your mouth.
  5. Don't worry about live video:  This is about the application, so live video of people is not essential. You can use screen capture software for a "live" demo and also still screen-shots, along with still images of the people and the problem.
  6. Say who you are at the beginning and end: Introduce your project at the start and remind the viewer again at the end.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Tom's Ten Tips for GovHack

Greetings from the Snow Centre for Education at Canberra Grammar School, where GovHack 2017 is in full swing. I am on duty n the "Coach Pit", at the top of the building, which is a little like being on the bridge of a ship. I am looking down on the old red brick buildings of the school, and a winter landscape of bare trees in the fog. Business is not brisk at present with only a few teams dropping in for advice.

Coaching a GovHack team is a skill none of the coaches is entirely comfortable with and so we had a discussion of the "Coaching Kata". 

But we are here for GovHack, so some tips for teams:
  1. Build a Team: You need people with a range of skills for your team: it is not just about technical computer skills (it is mostly not about technical computer skills).
  2. What is the Problem? You need to be able to clearly and briefly explain what problem you are solving. Practice by explaining it in a few words to people in the coffee queue (the coffee at GovHack is very good).
  3. What is the solution? With the problem identified, the solution is still not easy to explain. One way is by comparison to an existing product or service: "It is *** for ***.
  4. Who is this for?  Consider who will ultimately use the application and who might be interested in providing the service.
  5. Has it been done? A quick web search will help see if what you propose has been done before. If it has, that is not the end of the world, as you can do it differently, or better, or both. 
  6. Get Help:  There are Mentors with deep knowledge of the data provided and Coaches with knowledge of tools and techniques. Drop into the Pits or post a query via the forum, or both.
  7. Do we have a plan?  It helps to know what you are planning to do when, even if it almost never turns out that way. The GovHack has deliverables at fixed times and you need to work towards these.
  8. Do we have a clear presentation? GovHack is as much about explaining your solution s getting it to work. Keep it clear and simple.
  9. Get it in on time:  It doesn't matter how good your solution is, if it is not submitted on time, it does not count.
  10. Learn and enjoy: GovHack is not a job: you can't tell your team to do something, you can only encourage them. Remember to take breaks and have a walk around outside. This will also make you more productive and ideas will pop into your head when wandering around.

Friday, July 28, 2017

GovHack 2017 Opened at Snow Centre for Education

Greetings from the Snow Centre for Education at Canberra Grammar School, where GovHack 2017 just opened. Tonight is mainly for familiarization and team formation. The hacking proper starts tomorrow. I am a Strategy Coach for the event, which involves wandering around asking people how they are going and prompting them to think about it.

The venue is a new purpose built education facility, more advanced than most at Australian universities. The MC for the event is Matthew Purcell, Head of Digital Innovation at Canberra Grammar School. Matthew is a highly skilled IT professional, as well as a teacher. 

For the next two days the teams will think up something innovative to do with government data, try to implement it and, most importantly, explain what it is and why it is useful.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

GovHack 2017

GovHack 2017 is on this weekend. I will be going along as a Strategy Coach for Canberra GovHack. The idea is to help teams of volunteers to build useful applications using data provided by government agencies. This is also happening at venues across Australia and New Zealand.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Google Glass Enterprise Edition AR Headset

The Google Glass Augmented Reality (AR) headset, has been relaunched as "Glass Enterprise Edition". Glass never made much sense as a mainstream consumer product. It was too large and cumbersome. It makes more sense as a device for industries such as engineering and health-care. I suggest training could be integrated in the Glass headset, in the workplace. As well as looking at electronic manuals, your instructor could pop up to provide help in fixing an engine or diagnosing a patient.

MyVu from 2002
However, AR for industry and training is not a new idea. The MicroOptical_MyVu from 2002 uses a similar optical path to Glass. MyVu required a cable to a computer, whereas Glass is self-contained. For industry use, where a long battery life and additional features, such as specialized radio communications may be needed, the MyVu approach is better than Glass.

This seems to be a case where Google tried to produce a consumer product, then tried to adapt that to industry, resulting in something not suited to either. Perhaps a third party provider will adapt Glass, by adding a cable, to make it more suitable for industry.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Blockchain for Military Operations

Last week I had a call from the Australian Financial Review newspaper asking about blockchain for military operations. As noted in the article I could see some application, but was a little skeptical. Later I found a paper on it by Verma, Desai, Preece and Taylor (2017), but remain skeptical.


Abernethy, M. (2017, Jul 14) Blockchain becoming an integral part of some defence technology. AFR. URL

Verma, D., Desai, N., Preece, A., & Taylor, I. (2017, May). A blockchain based architecture for asset management in coalition operations. In SPIE Defense+ Security (pp. 101900Y-101900Y). International Society for Optics and Photonics. Retrieved from

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Fear in The Suburbs

You have only tonight left to catch the world premiere season of Phillip Kavanagh's play "Little Borders" tonight at Old 505 Theatre, Newtown, Sydney. This dark comedy has a main character "Steve" (BRANDON McCLELLAND) who looks disturbingly like a young Donald Trump. With his wife "Elle" ( LUCY GOLEBY) they feed off each other's middle class suburban fear of neighbors who don't look and talk like them.

The play won the 2011 Patrick White award and perhaps should get a political award as an allegory for the state of the western world. We have a world fearing the different, building walls, fearing those in our community and adopting violent solutions to what are social and economic problems. 

CHARLIE EDWARD DAVIS and JEREMY ALLEN's spare set helps set the brooding atmosphere. There are only two actors in this play, but the playwright paints such a vivid picture of other characters that at one point I was thinking how good their performances were (before realizing they were just word pictures).

505 Theatre is an intimate venue, but this play deserves a larger and longer outing.

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

FastMail Classic interface has now been retired

FastMail have discontinued the "Classic" web interface for their e-mail service. In place of the fast web pages, I have to wait for the slow "responsive" interface. This is most noticeable when using a slow wireless modem.

Sunday, July 02, 2017

SMPTE 2017 Sydney

SMPTE 2017 is a conference and exhibition for the video industry in Sydney 18 to 21 July 2017. 

I would like to attend, but when I tried to register for the trade show, I got a Microsoft .NET error:

Server Error in '/' Application.

The model item passed into the dictionary is of type 'Model.VisitorModel', but this dictionary requires a model item of type 'Model.PublicViewModel'.

Description: An unhandled exception occurred during the execution of the current web request. Please review the stack trace for more information about the error and where it originated in the code.

Exception Details: System.InvalidOperationException: The model item passed into the dictionary is of type 'Model.VisitorModel', but this dictionary requires a model item of type 'Model.PublicViewModel'.

Source Error:

An unhandled exception was generated during the execution of the current web request. Information regarding the origin and location of the exception can be identified using the exception stack trace below.

Stack Trace:

[InvalidOperationException: The model item ...

Version Information: Microsoft .NET Framework Version:4.0.30319; ASP.NET Version:4.7.2053.0

Saturday, July 01, 2017

Australian Defence Force Information Warfare Division

Head Military Strategic Commitments Division Major General PW 'GUS' GilmoreAn Information Warfare Division (IWD), has just been formed in Australian Defence Force Headquarters (July 2017). There are four branches: Information Warfare Capability, C4 and Battle Management Capability, Capability Support Directorate and the Joint Cyber Unit. The division is headed by MAJGEN Marcus Thompson as Deputy Chief Information Warfare. MAJGEN Thompson has a PhD in Cyber Security from the University of New South Wales. He is the author of "The cyber threat to Australia" . (Australian Defence Force Journal, 2012) and other papers on cyber security.

RAAF P-3 Orion Aircraft, photo by 'Timothy' CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia CommonsThe ABC has speculated that one target for the new unit will be the Chinese South Sea Fleet, in the South China Sea.

It happens I have been teaching Australian National University IT students using a scenario about cyber-warfare over the South China Sea. In this hypothetical, students are asked to consider the use of information warfare as an alternative to conventional military action.

 As the ABC report notes, one of the problems with a cyber-warfare unit will be attracting, retaining and paying highly skilled personnel in competition with the private sector. An option I proposed in 2013 was the use of civilian computer professionals who are military reserve officers. After brief military training these personnel would return to their day jobs, but be ready to be instantly mobilized.

Monday, June 26, 2017

Keeping TiVos Working in Australia After October

Darren King suggests, is to register for the TiVo swap-out, but not hand over your TiVo until late October, to see if the grass roots project is a success.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Poor Get Poorest NBN Service

Various/The Conversation, CC BY-ND
In "Three charts on: the NBN and Australia’s digital divide" (The Conversation, June 21, 2017), Schram, Baum, Fisher, Harris, Friel and Frereman show that socio-economic disadvantaged areas of Australia have been missing out on the faster fiber National Broadband Network (NBN). These areas get the slower wireless, hybrid fibre or satellite service. Even when location was taken into account (as wireless and satellite are primarily intended for low population densities) the same effect was found. However, why this may be the case: due to deliberate discrimination by NBN Co., an effect of the technology, or the way the existing infrastructure was built, the authors do not mention. Perhaps this will be in the peer reviewed publications of the research to come.

This is not quite the broadband for social good which  Roger Clarke and I envisioned in 1994.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Venture Capital Effect

The Venture Capital Effec by Australian Private Equity and Venture Capital AssociationGreetings from the Mural Hall of Parliament House Canberra, where The Venture Capital Effect is being launched. This report  is from the Australian Private Equity and Venture Capital Association, so is very pro-VC.

This is of interest to me as I help students undertaking start-ups at the Australian National University. Some of these are extra-curricular activities such as the Innovation ACT competition, while others are part of their degree program through ANU Techlauncher.

Unfortunately all the MPs had to go to a division, just they were getting up to speak at the event. Perhaps one new venture could be an electronic voting system for Parliament, so MPs need not be in the chamber. ;-)

NBN Pork-barreling Worked

Research by Alizadeh and Farid (2017) found that pork-barreling by Australian politicians over the National Broadband Network (NBN) worked. Voters who received early access to high speed broadband rewarded the party which provided this with their votes:
    "An analysis of the voting behaviour in the 2007 and the 2010 Federal elections shows a pattern in which the ALP held seats were the key beneficiaries of the early NBN rollout. Moreover, the results suggests that the Coalition held safe seats were the least likely to receive the infrastructure. Diverse sub-patterns across the three states of New South Wales, Queensland, and Victoria have been discussed in details. However, the overall findings remain that the selection process for the early NBN rollout was skewed up for potential political gains.

    The paper then moves to the second question on whether the targeted infrastructure provision worked and swung votes for the ALP in the following 2013 Federal election. The analysis of the voting in the NBN early rollout areas versus the rest of the country shows a clear difference. While the ALP experienced an overall heavy negative swing across the nation and lost the election, the negative shift was highly mitigated in the NBN early release sites."

    From Alizadeh and Farid, 2017.
I suggest the lesson from this is: when proposing tech policy, find some aspect which offers short term political gain. Making appeals to the national interest and long term benefit is of little relevance to politicians aiming to win the next election. So how do we make changes we think need to be made to Internet policy appealing to voters in the short term and so therefore appealing to politicians?


Alizadeh, T., & Farid, R. (2017). Political economy of telecommunication infrastructure: An investigation of the National Broadband Network early rollout and pork barrel politics in Australia. Telecommunications Policy, 41(4), 242-252.

The Clean House, Sarah Ruhl, New Theatre, Newtown, Sydney

On Sunday I attended the play The Clean House by Sarah Ruhl at the New Theatre in Newtown, Sydney. The play begins with someone telling a joke in Portuguese, a long joke. The person telling the joke is clearly enjoying it, but I don't speak Portuguese and so did not get it. The rest of the play was in English, mostly, which I do speak, but I still didn't get what this play was about.

Set mostly in a comfortable apartment of a professional American couple, the play's central character is a Portuguese speaking Brazilian maid, who like telling jokes more than cleaning. She becomes tied up the breakdown of the relationship of the couple. It all becomes a bit silly when one party goes off to Alaska to chop down a tree.

The mix of the surreal and the buttoned-up professionals did not work for me. The cast is clearly having fun, and Alice Livingstone in particular as a frumpy sister with an urge to break out and get a job. However, I don't find comedies about rich people with fantasies of having to work for a living that funny.

The Clean House by Sarah Ruhl is on at the New Theatre in Newtown, Sydney until 8 July 2017.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Finkel Report on Australian Electricity Market No Solution

The "Blueprint for the Future: Independent Review into the Future Security of the National Electricity Market" by
Alan Finkel, Karen Moses, Chloe Munro, Terry Effeney and Mary O’Kane has been released by the Australian Government. The 212 page report includes eight pages of recommendations. The report proposes short term regulation requiring energy suppliers and distributors to provide a reserve of generating capacity (dispatchable power). However, the report doesn't address how to do this in a cost effective way. The likely result is that supplying companies will take the opportunity to use this as a reason to further increase prices.

This report is very much focused on the short term  issues of reliable electricity supply which are only an inconvenience to the community, but a major political threat to governments. The report fails to adequately address the long term issue of carbon pollution from coal and gas fired power stations which places the prosperity of the nation and the safety of its citizens at risk.

The authors of the report have met their brief, in providing a way for the Australian Government to avoid having to deal with difficult issues of human caused climate change and reliable electricity supply.  Instead the industry regulator will be required to introduce short term regulations which will increase the cost of electricity in the short and long term, as well as greatly adding to the cost decades from now, when Australia is forced to take effective action on climate change.

If the aim is to increase the reliability of the electricity supply, then there are some simple low cost ways through modern technology. Modern air-conditioners use electronically controlled motors (so called "inverters"). It would require only a small enhancement to the program controlling the inverters to have them help stabilize the power grid. Australian law could be changed to require all new domestic and industrial air-conditioners permanently connected to the grid to be programmed to help maintain it. This would cost a few dollars per unit and the user would be unlikely to notice the difference. A few times a year the air-conditioner would  switch to low power mode for a few minutes to help maintain the grid.

Dr Evan Franklin, Senior Lecturer, Research School of Engineering, ANU, presented an excellent seminar "Electrical power systems with high penetration of renewables: the physics behind the political bluster". Dr  Franklin provided a clear and credible analysis of what caused the South Australian blackout (which precipitated the Finkel Report) and options to improve the reliability of supply while also increasing the use of renewable energy and phasing out coal.

 Unfortunately it seems unlikely the Australian Government would feel able to accept Dr Franklin's advice. One hope for the future is that technology will come to the rescue. The continually dropping cost of solar and wind energy, along with options for battery and pumped hydro storage will likely have more influence on energy options than Australian Government policy. Australia will likely achieve a reliable renewable energy system despite, not because of, government policy.

On Thursday I attended a community energy session at EnergyLab hosted by University of Technology Sydney. Speakers from ClearSky, Pingala,  and Community Power Agency put the case for a different energy future for Australia,  where the community is involved in planning and implementation.

Monday, May 22, 2017

World's Smallest 4G Smartphone?

Jelly 4G Smartphone
My smartphone will stop working at the end of September, when Vodafone decommissions its 2G network in Australia. So I have signed up with the Kickstarter campaign for the "Jelly Smartphone", claimed to be the smallest 4G smartphone.

Posh Micro X Smartphone
The Jelly appears similar in size to the Posh Micro X, claimed as the "Smallest Smartphone in the World". This has been on sale for some time and gets reasonable reviews on, typically commenting it is adequate given the size. The Jelly appears to offer upgraded electronics and software compared to the Posh and better compatibility with global phone networks.

The Jelly will have a 2.4 inch screen, about the size of my old pre-smart "feature phone". What I really wanted was a flip-phone, but I could not find a reasonably priced one which would work on Australian networks. Perhaps someone will make an after-market Star Trek flip cover for the Jelly, like the cover on the
Motorola A760. This protects the screen when closed (but with the display visible through a transparent window). You could then answer a call by opening the flip and end it by closing. The cover has channels to take the sound from the speaker in the body of the phone up to your ear, making it more comfortable to hold.

Friday, April 28, 2017

A Perilous World

New Theatre's production of "The Chapel Perilous" by Dorothy Hewett requires stamina from the audience but is rewarding. This autobiographical work looks at a brilliant but rebellious youth growing up in a world at war, at war with herself and the society which tries to constrain her.

Julia Christensen as Sally Banner is center stage for almost two hours, raging against the system. Brett Heath transforms from the hellfire spitting lascivious Cannon to Sally's father very convincingly (although I kept thinking he looked like Clive James, an Australian poet and atheist who fitted more comfortably in the system). 

Costume designer Courtney Westbrook has brought an understated wartime feel to the production.

The set is dominated by a large luminous chevron, which acts as the "Chapel" and at times apparently the entry to hell.

All the actors give an energetic performance, perhaps at times a little over energetic. At times is is disturbing, as the playwright intended. However, some parts have dated. A fantasy scene where the authority figures burst into song is a bit too "Singing Detective". The references to Le Morte d'Arthur
and The Iliad show the playwright showing off their classical education. Also Parry's Jerusalem seems to crop up in New Theatre productions.

The New Theatre is celebrating its 85th anniversary this year. But perhaps it need to look to the future and contemporary issues, not just the last century. With the world perhaps on the brink of a third world war, starting in East Asia, there is scope for New Theatre to draw lessons from 85 years ago for today.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Power Bank as a USB Data Blocker?

USB Power Bank
The May edition of TechLife Australia in their security and privacy guide laments the lack of available "USB Data Blockers". Perhaps a USB Power Bank can be used as a data blocker.

The problem is that a USB cable can transmit data as well as power. LifeHacker suggests the use of a USB Data Blocker when using USB devices you are not sure of. The Data blocker plugs in between your device and the untrusted device, to let the power through, but no data. However, they can't find any commercial source of such devices.

PortaPow Data Block + Fast Charge 21AWG Lightning USB Cable (Adapter)
There are some USB Data Blockers offered by, such as the PortaPow Data Block,
but these are not commonly available in retail stores.

In contrast USB Power Banks are readily available at low price. These have two USB sockets: one to charge the power back and one to charge your device from the power bank. A discussion in Whirlpool suggests some power banks can be plugged in to a power source and device to charge simultaneously. If this "pass-though" mode stops data, the power-bank can be used as a data block.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Driving Canberra's Innovation Ecosystem

At the First Wednesday Connect hosted by the Canberra Innovation Network (CBRIN), I gave a sixty second pitch about my book "Digital Education". The people who pitched were then asked "What do you think Canberra needs to do to drive its innovation ecosystem?" and this ended up on a short video. Caught on the spot I ended up saying "The danger with any project with government support is it will get forgotten about before it has a chance to succeed". I am last on the video, so ended up with my image on the video thumbnail. CBRIN and how it uses the Cambridge Silicon Fen approach to industry development, features in my book.

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Smart-phone Screencast to Airline Seat-back Screens?

If the ban on electronic devices larger than a cellphone in aircraft cabins continues, it may be worth airlines adding smart-phone interfaces to their seat-back screens. Many airlines already provide a USB socket which can be used to charge a phone, or access data on a flash drive. However the interface offered by the in-flight entertainment system for accessing the flash drive data tends to be slow and cumbersome. An alternative would be to screen-cast from the smart-phone to the seat-back display, via the USB cable (which would power the phone at the same time). The passenger would use their phone touch screen as the interface, and have access to the phone's data and applications, but see the results on the much bigger aircraft screen.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Limit Electronic Devices on Airlines to 300 mm and 200 g?

The US and UK have banned electronic devices larger than a cellphone from aircraft cabins on flights from some countries. But what is “larger than a cellphone”?

Perhaps airline check-in counters need a gauge, like the one for carry-on luggage, or weight alone would be sufficient.

It is not clear what the threat from laptops and tablets is. There could be good reasons for authorities are not wanting to make this clear, but I don't know what they are.

The Guardian article mentions the risk of bombs and of lithium batteries. The bigger and heavier the device is, the bigger the bomb or battery it can hold. So it would make sense to limit the size of devices, but to do that an actual size needs to be specified, not just “larger than a cellphone”.

Large phones ("phablets"):
  • iPhone 7 Plus, with a 5.5 in screen is 158.2 mm x 77.9 mm x 7.3 mm and weighs 188 g.
  • Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge with a 5.5 in screen is 150.9 mm x 72.6 mm x 7.7 mm and weighs 177 g.
Are not that much smaller than a small tablet:
  • Samsung Galaxy Tab 7.0 with a 7.0 in display is 190.09 mm x 120.45 mm x 11.98 mm and weighs 380 g.
A reasonable limit for devices might be: height, width and depth added (the way baggage sizes are set), must be no more than 300 mm and the weight no more than 200 g. That would allow the phablets, but not tablets.

Just to check, my chunky old Lenovo A588T Android Flip Phone is 120.6 mm + 62.5mm + 16.8mm = 199.9 mm at 178.4 g,. That would pass, provided I don't open the flip, which makes the phone 115 mm longer. ;-)

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Virtual Power Station Cheaper Than Snowy Hydro 2.0?

Tomorrow I am giving a guest lecture to Systems Engineering students (COMP3530) at the Australian National University on "Environmental Concerns". As usual I will run them through "How Green is My Computer?", an exercise in estimating the carbon emissions from a computer. However, to make it topical, I thought I would see if computers can provide a cheaper alternative to the PM's Snowy Hydro 2.0 Proposal.

Smoothing the peaks ...
Blakers and Fulton,
The Conversation,
In February 2017, a team of ANU researcher, lead by Professor Andrew Blakers released a report proposing that "100% renewable electricity in Australia" was feasible. This would use pumped hydro energy storage: excess power from wind turbines and solar panels would be used to pump water into a high reservoir. At times when there was insufficient wind and sun, the water would run down to a lower reservoir and drive a turbine. Blakers and Fulton described how this could be implemented at the existing Snowy Hydro Scheme, in 2014.

Murray 1 Snowy Hydro Station,
by Martin Kraft/Wikimedia
Malcolm Turnbull, Prime Minister of Australia then announced the "Snowy Mountains Scheme 2.0." (16 March 2017), to add 2000 megawatts of pumped hydro storage, at a cost of AU$2B ("Malcolm Turnbull plans to upgrade Snowy Hydro to version 2.0" (Video), ABC TV, 16 March 2917).

Dr Lachlan Blackhall
However, are there cheaper, quicker alternatives for low pollution energy, using computer and telecommunications? Companies including Canberra's Reposit Power (Founded by ANU graduate Dr Lachlan Blackhall) aggregate the power from home solar systems (and batteries) and sell this back to the grid.

However, there is another underused source of on-demand power available in people's homes: the air-conditioner. The air-conditioner is a large part of the energy supply problem but could be part of the solution. A home ducted home air-conditioner uses about 5KW of power. A medium room air-conditioner uses  2.3KW. What if we could pay householders to halve their air-conditioning energy use at times of high energy demand?

Smart meters and some air conditioners have a Demand Response Enabling Device (DRED) option. This allows the electricity supplier to remotely switch the air-conditioner to a lower power mode at times of peak demand. The supplier offers a cash payment up front and a lower electricity charge to householders who take up the option. However, this is not very popular.

If we could use smart-phones, and sharing economy techniques to provide more of an incentive to consumers, would this be cost effective?

A quick back-of the-envelope calculation:
Cost of Snowy #2 power: $2B for 2000 MW = $1,000 per KW.

Assuming a consumer would halve their air-conditioner consumption on demand, 5KW to 2.3KW = 2.7 KW saved. This would have to cost less than $2,700 to be cheaper than Snowy #2. Retrofitting DRED may well cost more than this. However, smart air-conditioners may require no extra hardware. The difficulty would be making it feasible for the consumer to enable the function, without requiring a technician to visit.

Raspberry Pi Computer,
photo by By Ayaita
(Own work) [CC BY 3.0],
via Wikimedia Commons
The computing power needed to provide the DRED function, could be provided by a computer equivalent to a $50 Raspberry PI. The computer needs no touch screen as it can instead use the consumer's smart-phone for the interface. The connection to the energy supplier can be via WiFi to the household hub. The system could be made fail-safe (and prevent the consumer cheating it) by having the unit programmed to operate on low power, until it receives an encrypted signal from the power company to switch to high power.

However, how many households would need to have DRED? The Snowy Hydro 2 scheme is proposed to produce 2000 MW. At 2.7 KW saved per household, that requires almost three quarters of a million households: 8% of the 9m in Australia. Also it is unlikely that these householders would be willing to give up half their air-conditioning for long periods. But such a system might be used during the annual peaks and when there is a problem with regular supply, rather than have fossil fuel stations on standby. So I propose the Snowy 2 Scheme include a 2000 MW virtual power station to be operational by the end of 2021 at a cost of $200M.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Publishing a Kindle eBook with

My book Digital Teaching In Higher Education, is now available as a Kindle eBook from Amazon. But setting this up was not easy.
Having successfully published paperback, hardback, PDF and ePub eBook versions of my ICT Sustainability and Digital Teaching books, with I thought I was all done. Then I discovered a note from Lulu to say that Australian based books are not published for the Amazon Kindle. So went into Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP) and started the process.

Content Creation

The KDP process is similar to Lulu. You enter the details of the book (title, author ...). Then upload the content, design a cover, select a price and how you would like the book distributed.

One feature KDP has, which Lulu does not, is spell checking. I was surprised to find 28 spelling errors reported in my manuscript for one book. Some of these were not errors, but were proper names and acronyms, but seven were errors. It is a little embarrassing to misspell "unviersities" (universities) in a book about higher education. ;-) 

Creating the eBook with KDP required some changes to the word-processing document I had used for Lulu. I have the content of each section of the book stored in a separate file as HTML code (the same files are used, unchanged for the web site). These HTML code files are imported into a LibreOffice master document (.ODM). There is one master document with a table of contents which is exported as a PDF file for the hardback, paperback and PDF eBook editions. There is a second master document with the same chapters, but without  a table of contents, for the ePub edition (as ePub has a separate contents file). Lulu does not accept .ODM master documents, so I export it to a normal word-processing document (.ODT) and Lulu converts this to ePub, adding the table of contents.

Table of Contents

KDP does not accept LibreOffice files and when I tried one exported to .DOC, it did not generate a table of contents,page breaks for chapters, or insert images. Exporting to the newer .DOC format produced a better result with the page breaks included, and images, but still no table of contents. The ePub file generated by Lulu also formatted well using KDP, with page breaks and images, but also had no table of contents.

So I modified the .ODM master document to add a table of contents (ToC) and then saved as .DOCX). This ToC less detailed than the table of contents for the printed book. The printed ToC is nine pages long, which would be tedious to scroll through on screen. So the eBook version omits sub-chapters, reducing the ToC to one page. Also I omitted page numbers from the ToC, as Kindle eBooks don't have page numbers.

Next time I revise the ePub ebook, I will have to decide if I include this abbreviated ToC. The ePub ebooks do not normally have the ToC within the text of the document, it is supplied via a separate XML file (in this case that file is generated by Lulu). But I would prefer to have just one master document to generate both the ePub and Kindle eBooks. Also it might be worth using a similar abbreviated table of contents in the print edition (with page numbers) before the full ToC (it can be daunting for the casual reader to see nine pages of contents).

One quirk of the table of contents function in LibreOffice is that I found I had to "update" it each time I opened the ODM document. If I did not do this the links did not work.

Pricing and Distribution Options

KDP Select is an option where your book is made available for rent to subscribers, however this only available if you do not publish the ebook elsewhere. As my ebook is already available trough Lulu, I did not select this option.

KDP Pricing Support offers to help suggest pricing by analyzing the manuscript and comparing it to sales of similar books. However, I could not get this to respond (it is still in Beta.Kindle books are proved with either s 30% or 70% royalty. The details of are complex, but the 70% royalty seems to be for lower priced books (up to US$9.99), mine is US$6.90, so I chose that option.

Print Book Option

After I published my Kindle edition, KDP offered the option of a print edition. As I already have this through Lulu, I did not try the option. 

Author Page

Like Lulu, offer an author page, where I uploaded a photo and bio. Lulu automatically links the books you published, whereas Amazon alsos you to search for others, where you are the author, but not the publisher. Amazon will also display recent posts from your blogs on the page. One troubling aspect is that some third parties are selling some of my books on Amazon for many times the retail price. These are books I have not yet listed on Amazon directly. Hopefully when I have them up myself, this will stop.

Publishing is Slow and Complex

Both Lulu and KDP offer good on-line services for publishing a book. However, with either (or both), this is still a complex, time-consuming and error prone process. Both offer to have some of this work done for you (at a fee). By doing the process myself I appreciate that publishers do earn then fees. ;-)

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Change Canberra Light Rail Project to Bus "Metro"

The city of Brisbane has decided to abandon plans for a track based metro and instead upgrade its existing bus transit system. I suggest Canberra should similarly change the currently Light Rail Project to use buses. The roadworks already underway for light rail could continue, but without track or overhead power installed. The money saved could be spent on hybrid articulated buses to run on the new dedicated roadway. If light rail becomes viable in the future it can be installed. However, new technology will likely make light rail obsolete in the next ten years.

Thursday, March 09, 2017

Experiments to Optimize Web Advertisements

Google offered to run experiments to see how allowing more Adsense advertisement categories on my web pages could increase revenue. So I am running an experiment unblocking "Events, Shows & Cultural Attractions", to see if makes a difference. But I am not going to unblock sensitive categories, such as "Weight Loss Supplements".

Wednesday, March 08, 2017

Cyberwar: The Most Hideous Form of Warfare of the 21st Century

Greetings from the great hall of the Australian National University in Canberra, where Dr Mohammad Sabah Al-Salem Al-Sabah, former Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of the State of Kuwait is speaking on "Regional Security in a Turbulent World: A GCC Perspective". Dr Al-Sabah referred to cyber-warfare as "The most hideous form of warfare of the 21st Century". Dr Al-Sabah pointed out how terrorist groups were now very well versed in the use of the Internet.

However, in my view, there is nothing in the nature of cyber-warfare which makes it worse than the use of conventional weapons and certainly not in the same category as chemical weapons. In teaching ethics to computer students at the ANU I used a Hypothetical on Cyberwar as an example. As with other weapons, the users of cyber-weapons should be judged by the effect intended.

Monday, March 06, 2017

Print and eBook Compatable PDF Creation using LibreOffice

After discovering that PDF eBooks are popular, I set about creating PDF version of my two currently published books, with minimum of effort. The book chapters are HTML files which are imported into a LibreOffice master document. There are actually two master documents: one for the print edition with a table of contents and one for the ePub edition without. The master document for the print edition is exported as PDF and uploaded to LuLu for printing. The master document for the ePub edition is exported as an ODF Text document (ODT) and uploaded to Lulu for conversion to ePub.

The obvious thing to do was to export the Master document used for ePub as PDF. The conversion worked and there was an index included in the PDF file. However, the reader of a PDF file normally expects there to be a table of contents in the document, emulating a printed work. So I then tried exporting the master document used for the print PDF.

The print PDF document looked fine on screen, but the table of contents was not hypertext linked (unnecessary for the printed edition). The reader may have not realized PDF provides a separate table of contents. So I created a third master document with hypertext linked table of contents. But this would add an addition step and I realized I could simply include hypertext links in the table of contents of the master document intended for printed books. The hypertext links appear dark blue for on screen, so they can be seen. I decided not to include the usual underlining of hypertext links, so when rendered for the printed book, the reader can't see what was a link.
I have now implemented this for:


There is still a problem with some pages being blank to allow correct pagination for print, which looks odd in an eBook. There are ways to have a PDF reader ignore blank pages, but I have yet to work out how.


Sunday, March 05, 2017

Most Successful Self-publishing Sales Channels

After self-publishing my new book "Digital Teaching In Higher Education" I decided to put out a second edition my my preview work "ICT Sustainability". I used for both books. With Lulu it is possible to produce electronic and paper editions of the one work. However, keeping track of changes between multiple formats is error prone and time consuming. Which editions are worthwhile in terms of sales? The answer is: paperback, hardback and PDF eBook. It is not clear if ePub is worth the effort.

For Digital Teaching I have paperback, hardback and Epub (electronic) editions. These all contain the same text. The hardback and paperback editions use the same PDF file for the interior, but have different cover files (as a hardback cover is larger than a paperback). The Epub uses a different interior file which does not have the table of contents (that is generated by the Epub system). I maintain one set of common files with the chapter contents in it, common to all versions, but then have to manually update each version on Lulu with the files. What I would like to do is upload the interior content and then have Lulu generate the paper and electronic editions, but it does not do that.

Previous I produced two electronic editions: Epub and PDF. The PDF edition is only sold by Lulu directly, not through electronic bookseller, who prefer the Epub. I can't just use the paper edition's PDF file for the eBook PDF, so this would require an additional manual step. But is it worth it in terms of sales? I had thought PDF was redundant: who would want PDF when Epub is so much better. But many people think of PDF and are not familiar with Epub.

LuLu provides some summary reports of sales, and also the ability to download details as a spreadsheet for analysis. For one edition, the analysis showed twice as many sales of PDF as Epub ebooks:


What was also surprising was that hardcover sales were half that of paperbacks. I was expecting hardcovers to sell one tenth the number of paperbacks, given the different in price. Paperbacks sold one at a time, hardcovers were multiple sales, which makes me suspect these were going to library suppliers.

So having PDF and Hardback editions is worthwhile. What is less worthwhile is the Epub edition. The print and PDF editions require similar skills to produce. The Epub requires a different set of skills and more than doubles the effort required for relatively little extra return. It is only because I have already invested the effort of understanding Epub I am continuing with it.

Also I looked at where sales come from:


Unfortunately Lulu has no record of where19% of the sales were. But for the remainder, Australia is not a surprise, nor is the US, UK, or China. What is surprising are the sales in the Netherlands and France.

One thing to keep in mind that each step in the distribution chain takes a cut of the revenue. Sales directly via Lulu earn much more than those which are then through another distributor. So while almost as many sales were through Ingram as Lulu, the revenue through Lulu was twice as much:

Sales Earnings
Ingram (Print)
Amazon (Print)

Only some formats are accepted for third party distribution. I have found the "US Trade"  size (6 by 9 inches) a good option for textbooks. Selling outside Lulu also requires another step in the process: you have to purchase a proof copy and check it. If there are corrections to be made another proof is needed, delaying distribution by another week. What I do is delay that distribution step for a few weeks, only selling the book through Lulu, to make sure I have the book right.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Sydenham Station Creative Hub

Yesterday I attended a talk about the "Sydenham Station Creative Hub" at Batch Brewing Company. This is a proposal to form a creative precinct in the industrial area adjacent to Sydenham Railway Station, to the South West of Sydney's CBD. Council staff talked about the proposed precinct, followed by the brewers on the difficulties of starting a business, and a tasting of the brews.

Being initiated by local government, the Sydenham Creative Hub is essentially a land planning activity. It is proposed to keep the current general industrial zoning, while allowing restaurants, cafes, bars and businesses:
"... but only where the consent authority is satisfied that the business premises and/or office premises will be used for a creative purpose such as media, advertising, fine arts and craft, design film and television, music, publishing, performing arts, cultural heritage institutions or other related purposes...".
What seems to be lacking from the plan is any concept of how to attract or support businesses, apart from helping with planning approval. There do not appear to be any targets for the project attracting business. I suggest the project needs a plan, with a budget and a projection it will be revenue positive for the council within a realistic time-frame.

The Council might want to also involve some local business students in working on aspects of the project beyond zoning. Also a workshop to work out a better name than the "Sydenham Station Creative Hub" (or just drop "Station"). The Council might also catalog the vocational training available in the area: brewers and other creative need training and certification.

ps:  John Whelan, of the Inner West Council Economic Development Unit proved that this local council can, literally, organize a drinking session in a brewery. ;-)

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Tried Microsoft HoloLens at LinkedIn Sydney

At the Instructional Design & eLearning Meetup last night at LinkedIn Sydney, I had the opportunity to briefly try Microsoft HoloLens. This was the most comfortable of the virtual reality headsets I have tried. The key feature is that the display is semi-transparent, superimposing images on what you can see around you. Also there is less of a catastrophic feeling. In addition the unit feels more balanced than other headsets which impose weight on the face. I was able with a little practice to use hand gestures to manipulate the image in front of me. But more significantly, I was still able to see and talk to people around me.

The Microsoft HoloLens is still a large and cumbersome device to have on your head. We are a couple of equipment generations, and several years, from a unit which is suitable for everyday use. These will need to be reduced to the size of the MicroOptical_MyVu, from 2002, which clipped onto the side of a pair of spectacles (but lacked the sensors in the VR units). As it is you would need a good reason to use the Microsoft HoloLens, for gaming, education or work.

The case for gaming with VR is clear, however, applications in education and work are less clear. There are not many situations where the immersion augmented/VR experience counteracts the impediment of the equipment. There would be limited roles in education, where the student needs their hands free. In the workplace the roles would be even more limited. Such units have been proposed for those repairing complex equipment to provide detailed instructions. However, those repairing, for example jet engines, or heart valves, do not do so untrained: they already have to have a high level of skill and knowledge.

One obvious use is in defence and security applications. The technology in consumer VR headsets could make the units affordable for more than just fighter pilots (and the VR headsets for the F-35 are not working too well anyway).

Friday, February 03, 2017

Google AdSense Matched content unit

My website has had some Google AdSense ads for years. These do not bring in much revenue. Google invited me to add AdSense "matched content units".It took some time to work out what these are. What Google does is select pages from your website and then feature photos from them, interspersed with advertisements, in a grid (see the bottom of my home page for example). The advertisements are marked as such, but because they are mixed in with page content, it is hard to tell which is which. The result looks good and it will be interesting to see if it increases revenue, or just annoys my readers.

ps: The  matched content can take several minutes to take effect on your web page, when you first set it up. Also I found that if I changed the settings (for example the background color) this took several minutes to take effect.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Power to the people

While doing a little ego surfing recently, I came across a two page article in the The Bulletin magazine (Braue, 1999):
"This article presents the views of Tom Worthington, former president of the Australian Computer Society and internet advocate. Relevant points include his various efforts to popularize cyberspace in Australia, such as posting digital photographs on the web from a hot air balloon, his service as an adviser to the Australian government on internet issues, and his opposition to censorship laws as inhibiting the net's proper function as a device for people-to-people communication." From Trove:
This is a very flattering article, with quotes from others as to how wonderful I was. There is a large photo of me standing in front of some computer equipment looking very expert. But what is curious is above my head in the photo is a sign which says "Kick-Me". I don't recall ever seeing this before, or why the sign was there.


Braue, David (1999-09-28). Power to the people.(views of Tom Worthington, past president of the Australian Computer Society and internet advocate). In The Bulletin with Newsweek. 117 (6193), 86(2).

Friday, January 13, 2017

Building a green Internet

The report "Clicking Clean: Who is winning the race to build a green Internet?" (Greenpeace USA, 10 January 2017), identifies Apple as the leader in green computing. leadership spot for the third year in a row among platform operators. The report criticizes Amazon Web Services (AWS) for data centers in Virginia (USA) power by electricity from coal. 

One point the report makes is that more than half of global Internet traffic is now video streaming. This is an area, I suggest, where technology could make improvements. Improved compression algorithms can reduce the size of the streamed data. Also more intelligencer systems can detect the size of the display and therefore what resolution image is required. There is no point in streaming
8K ultra high definition television to a pocket size mobile device, or a tiny picture-in-picture window on a large TV. Lower resolution video will be indistinguishable to the viewer, saving bandwidth and energy.

For more on green computing, see my book "ICT Sustainability: Assessment and Strategies for a Low Carbon Future".